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The Faces of White Privilege


                                            Brock Turner and Lena Dunham 


                When Stanford University Swimmer Brock Allen Turner’s sentence for rape became known, the outrage and disbelief caused an instant outpouring of anger, both off and online.  One reaction in particular that stood out was a powerful statement from the victim herself.  She addressed it to the accused.  It was articulate, horrifying and ultimately tragic.

Brock and Dunham, art by Kurt von Behrmann 2016


                Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky’s verdict was a visible reminder that race, class and privilege still determine outcomes that are favorable to those who enjoy them.  Prosecutors asked for a six-year sentence.  The actual sentence was slighter.

                "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him," Persky said. "I think he will not be a danger to others."  The rationale provided  was that Turner did not have an extensive criminal history.  He was sentenced to six months in jail, that more than likely will become three, with good behavior, of course.

                Turner’s father, Dan, in a written statement summed up the sexual assault as “20 minutes of action” in a plea for leniency.  Apparently, it was effective.

                Athletes are often held as examples, role models and sources of inspiration.  It is no secret that stars on the playing field are “indulged” both on and off of it. The veneer of stardom is powerful and alluring.  No one wants to punish an athlete, particular those of the “blonde” and “All American” type.


 Dunham and Turner are not  total equivalents, but they are not far removed from each other.



                What this entire trial made painfully clear, despite so many proclamations to the contrary, is that class, privilege and money count.   It is hard to maintain the illusion of a free and democratic society when those attending prestigious  institutions of higher learning  can do as they please with minimal consequences.   

                One element of this entire event that pointed to more than a self-centered athlete deciding to take what he wanted without thought or concern was the father’s reaction.  To him, this was nothing more than “boys being boy.”  It is really nothing to get worked up over in his eyes.
 
                Clearly, the judge in this instance seemed to be far more concerned about Turner’s future than the long last effects of a rape on young woman who had passed out and was taken advantage of in the most brutal of ways in the most vulnerable of places.

                There was no way to triangulate this as a girl who was “simply asking for it,” or a young woman desperate for revenge using rape to inflict the most harm. This case was never ambiguous.  It was so clear cut that there was no other way to see it. 

                As to be expected when monumental events transpire, the celebrated are going to make their voices heard.   Sometimes with the best of intentions, or sometimes for the worst.  As a means to obtain free publicity, or to appear concerned and of substance, the better known among us are going to say “something.” 

                Some spokespeople do no real harm when they voice support.  However, there are some who by their very presence carry a veneer so tarnished and ugly that their voices are better left silent.



It is interesting to note that a woman who strives so hard to see beauty in an unconventional body only finds attractive men who are the most conventionally physically attractive. 



                I have never been a fan of Lean Dunham.  For several excruciating hours I tried to make sense of her H.B.O. series “Girls.”   Poised as something of a junior version of “Sex and the City,” Dunham’s creation lacked even a hint of the wit, pathos or humor that made the former memorable.

                The world of “Girls” amounts to nothing more than the vapid complaints of the self-absorbed fortunate few who must create meaning from self-induced pain.  The shrill sounds of their own meaningfulness utterances cannot be seen as profound, or even remotely entertaining. 

Michelangelo Antonioni, Françoise Sagan, and Federico Fellini were masters at turning the ennui of the affluent into the stuff of which art is made.   The best that Dunham can muster are sitcom one liners and self-aggrandizement.

“..I think that I may be the voice of my generation—or at least a voice of a generation,” Dunham’s character on “Girls” announces.  It is a revealing statement.  It  hints at the inherent problem here.   She does not have the verve to say she is the voice of her generation. Instead she qualifies it by adding that she may speak at least some generation “out there.”   Even in the grand ambitions, there is a hesitance that shows a failing at coming to a real assessment of the meaning of her work. It can be taken as an admission to a certain lack of conviction.

Dunham frequently peppers her trudge through the lives of the ungrateful and the dull by parading around nude.  The idea behind this is that she is “accepting” her body and “owning it.”  She is somehow doing those not part of the cultural norm of attractive a service.  She is opening the range of what the acceptable body type for women ideally should be, supposedly.

What this amounts to is that female self-value is still in some way rooted in the body, not in female accomplishments.  She may sound like she is breaking new ground, but instead she is resorting to the old “female nude as valuable only ethos” and in turn just reinforces the idea that any woman must see her body as one of her primary assets.   Nothing new is here.


 Rational thinking and logical thought processes have been replaced by a needs and wants mentality.


What makes her nudity so uncomfortable is the non-sexual result of it. She desperately wants us to see her as sexual and desirable.  Because of the manner in which she presents herself, she is not able to effectively present herself nude as anything other than mildly amusing or incredibly awkward.  Her uncovered body becomes the kind of attention getting device seen in a histrionic personality disorder.  It is forced, unnecessary, sad and ultimately forgettable and boring.

It is interesting to note that a woman who strives so hard to see beauty in an unconventional body only finds attractive men who are the most conventionally physically attractive.  In her show I have never seen her attached to a man who has an equivalent body type to her own.

For men, and woman of substance, value has usually been linked to substantive achievements.  For artists, it is found in truth.  It is something missing from Dunham’s  work.  A sense of some fundamental truth or value system is conspicuously absent. Everything is set in an unequal world where truth is malleable.  No one performs any kind of introspection, except the kind linked to wants not met and desires denied.  

Even her memoir, if you can all it that, “Not That Type Of Girl,” qualifies everything in it by Dunham stating that it may be true in part or possibly all fiction.   She cannot commit to being either a chronicle of her experiences or a writer of fiction.  She wants the veracity of truth and the escape clause of fiction.  It is that ambiguity that stifles her work.  It also robs it of any real substance as well.
                What is certainly not fictional are the allegations, or more accurately hints, in the book of a rape by a conservative named Barry when she attended Oberlin College.  Dunham never called the police and reported the incident.  The rape itself can be called into question.   

                 Unfortunately, the only Barry on the campus had to endure the humiliation of everyone thinking he was a sex offender.   The real life Barry has been able to clear his name, but accusations like these have a long shelf life. 
  
                Jumping to yet another disturbing revelation in her book is that she was a sexual predator.  She recounts events where she manipulated her sister Grace in order to have sexual encounters.   When she was questioned about this, she brushes off the episodes as just so many children’s games. “Boys will be Boys” and one assumes, “Girls will be Girls.”


 An interesting point of convergences is that both Dunham and Turner are operatives in a world where privilege, wealth, access and ethnicity work in concert to create a world where everyone feels entitled, but no one responsible.


                One cannot help but wonder what would happen if a man wrote a quasi-fictional piece like this?
                When it became known that Josh Duggar had molested his sisters, the response to this was swift, and fiscal.  Outrage filled the internet and a lucrative television show was shut down in short order.

                Honey Boo Boo’s mother, “Mama June Shannon,” lost her reality show when  reports surfaced that she was dating a man who had been convicted of raping one of her daughters.  Like Josh Duggar, the media response was swift.

                Interestingly enough, Dunham has found herself largely untouched by her disturbing maybe real maybe not revelations.

                Now, Dunham has come out as an outspoken voice in support against Brock Turner.

                What makes this truly disturbing is that you have a person who admits to being an unreliable witness wants to be  a voice against the very acts she may, or may have not, committed herself.  In what kind of upside down sideways universe does this happen?

                For a woman to make light of sexually molesting her sister, and then to condemn acts of violence against women, Dunham is the very last person on the planet who should even be near this arena.

                An interesting point of convergences is that both Dunham and Turner are operatives in a world where privilege, wealth, access and ethnicity work in concert to create a world where everyone feels entitled, but no one responsible.   It is an atmosphere top heavy on “Noblesse and paper thin weak on “oblige.”

                Both share the uncanny ability of being so absorbed in their own wants and needs, that criticism or consequences matter little.  Parents indulge and provide support, but offer precious little in the way of direction or guidance, or punishment.


                For a woman to make light of sexually molesting her sister, and then to condemn an act of violence against women, Dunham is the very last person on the planet who should even be near this arena.



                The very same sense of entitlement used by Dunham and Turner are here. Neither has the objectivity to see that they are both coming from a place where one can do what one pleases and not face consequences.  Rational thinking and logical thought processes have been replaced by a needs and wants mentality.   Any sense of compassion or consideration of other people is secondary, if at all considered.          


                Dunham and Turner are not  total equivalents, but they are not far removed from each other.  Both have enjoyed the rewards that come from a system that gives hall passes to the affluent.  For a society that denies the benefits of race, class and economic position, for a society that strenuously insists that the U.S. is a level playing field, one has to simply look at the evidence.  It is omnipresent.


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My web site   Kurt von Behrmann


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